Voices of Peace
In the wake of the massive protests at the IMF/World Bank meetings in Washington, pundits have been painting demonstrators the same way they did the protesters at Seattle: as enemies of "globalization" -- and, by implication, benighted souls trying to duck the tide of history. Speaking as someone who stood on the barricades in D.C., I can attest that, from the protesters' perspective, the truth is precisely the other way around. If "globalization" means the unfettered movement of people, products, and ideas, then we're the ones in favor of it. You didn't see any banners denouncing "globalization" in Washington; what you saw were denunciations of "corporate globalization" -- a system, embodied in organizations like the IMF, the WTO, and the World Bank, which is as much about imposing and maintaining forms of protectionism than about eliminating them.
Consider for a moment what real globalization -- the genuine unification of our planet -- might entail.
* Free Immigration: The globe today is divided up by invisible walls called "borders," maintained by hundreds of thousands of soldiers and police. As a result, if you happen to be a farmer born in a country which is mostly desert, it is illegal to simply move to one where there are adequate supplies of water. If you have the bad luck to be born in a country there is no decent school system, it is illegal to move someplace which has one. As a result, most people in the world today feel like prisoners. Real globalization would begin to take these barriers apart. Proponents of corporate globalization demand exactly the opposite. They want to maintain the invisible walls, and keep the poor trapped behind them, so as to allow Nike and The Gap to reap the profits of their desperation.
* The Global Rule of Law: Real globalization would also mean creating the backbone of worldwide legal institutions: for instance, permanent tribunals to prosecute war criminals, enforce labor rights, and protect the global ecosystem. But it's the protesters who are pushing for such institutions; the U.S. government, that great proponent of corporate globalization, which is doggedly clinging to outmoded notions of national sovereignty in order to resist it.
* The Free Movement of Knowledge, Cultural Products and Ideas: As economists like Dean Baker note, the single most significant form of protectionism in the world today is our gargantuan system of patents and copyrights. If we had a genuinely free global marketplace, whoever could manufacture the best computer chip for the cheapest price would be free to do so: whether they live in Chicago, Latvia, or Bangladesh. Prices everywhere would plummet, and some of the money freed up could easily be redirected towards publicly funded research. Instead, the U.S. government, which systematically violated English patent laws when we were the ones trying to industrialize in the nineteenth century, is now, like other proponents of corporate globalization, trying to prevent others from doing the same: even going so far as to threaten a trade war with China to preserve Warner Brothers' right to charge workers who make sixteen cents a day $15.95 for a Michael Jackson CD, or trying to tighten patent restrictions on pharmaceutical production to prevent Indian companies from continuing to manufacture medicine that Indian people can actually afford. Real globalization would loosen such forms of protectionism, or even eliminate them.
This is not the only measure by which the protesters are actually greater supporters of free trade than their opponents:
* Uniform Standards for Products and Licensing:
Governments and business organizations have spent decades creating uniform international product standards. A screw or a lug wrench made in Mexico or the Philippines is now likely to fit an engine made in America. If it wasn't for this painstaking groundwork, it would have been impossible for American factories to so freely relocate to such countries. However, there has been no similar effort to create uniform standards in professional services: for instance, qualifications to practice law, medicine, or accountancy. As a result, sheet metal workers in St. Louis have to compete with their counterparts in Tiajuana, but lawyers, CPAs, and insurance claims adjusters there do not. If they did, the public would save billions, but a lot of prosperous and influential people would get upset. Corporate globalizers want to protect the professional classes from international competition. Real globalizers would demand that everyone play by the same rules.
It is time be honest. The real argument is not between those who are for globalization and those who are against it. It never was. The real argument is not about whether to reduce the barriers; it's about which barriers to reduce, and how far, and for whose benefit. Real globalization means reducing restrictions on everyone. Corporate globalization means reducing restrictions on those who are already rich and powerful, and strengthening the walls which imprison the poorest and most vulnerable. It is plainly immoral. That's why so many thousands of America's young people having been mobilizing to protest it, and demanding a form of globalization which will actually benefit the vast majority of people with whom we share this earth.
author may be contacted at David.Graeber@yale.edu
Also See Why Are Globalizers So Provincial?, by Alice H. Amsden